WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Seated at his workbench, Jim Downey uses a blow torch to melt colored glass rods onto a second glass rod to craft a small sea turtle, drop by drop.
He's focused, but with almost 40 years of experience, Downey makes easy conversation with people gathered around watching his public art demonstration on Saturday at Eclipse Artisan Boutique in Wilmington.
Downey is a glass torch artist who specializes in crafting sea turtles. In the winter, he turns his focus to Christmas ornamental balls.
"It's the beauty of the creation of the thing that gets me," said Downey. "And that's why I keep doing it. Glass is just a beautiful medium to make stuff with."
Making glass art involves melting rods, adding in colored minerals, shaping and molding the piece with a variety of tools, and finally placing into a hot oven for several hours to anneal the glass.
Nowadays, Downey's art includes glass sea turtles, mermaids, sea horses, jellyfish, and dolphins, and other aquatic life.
But he got his start in glass art almost four decades ago -- and has since crafted a wide variety of detailed glass pieces.
"Back in the 70's when I started this, I had long, blond hair and a big blond beard," said Downey.
After graduating from high school in 1976, Downey enrolled in a glass blowing school in New Jersey.
After school, he started making glass art on a boardwalk to make money until he was able to find a full-time job.
Downey's first full-time glass gig was as in Princeton, NJ working as a glass blower making vacuum tubes for the oil industry.
"I started meeting glass blowers at conventions who made small glass art after their day jobs," said Downey.
He said making glass snowmen inside Christmas Balls was among his early after-work art.
Today, he mostly makes sea turtle art, and 10% of the proceeds go toward sea turtle conservation.
During his public sea turtle art demonstration, Downey commented on the current state of glass torch art in the U.S.
"People who are driving most of this innovation in glass colors are all making pot pipes. This is what is driving the industry right now is these states where they've legalized pot and these glass blowers are making these glass pipes," said Downey. "And they're making some incredible works of art, charging a lot of money for it. But me, I don't do that. I make sea turtles and Christmas balls."